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Harrison challenges SOJ graduates to identify and embrace their "punctuation points"

Thomas L. Harrison

Sometimes it’s the advice that people don’t want to hear that inspires them to greatness.

West Virginia University alumnus Thomas L. Harrison told P.I. Reed School of Journalism graduates that he was “emotionally stunned” in the early 1970s when his graduate advisor at WVU said he’d be better suited for the business world than research and academia. At the time, Harrison was working toward his Ph.D. in cell biology.

Harrison, who delivered the keynote address at the School of Journalism’s 2010 May Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 16, told students that this revelation “punctuated” his life and allowed him to capitalize on new opportunities. Harrison is now the chairman and chief executive officer of Diversified Agency Services, the world’s largest group of marketing services companies. A division of the Omnicom Group, DAS has more than 5,000 worldwide clients and annual revenues of almost $5 billion.

“I’m certainly not the only person who can attest to the life-changing powers of ‘punctuation points,’ ” Harrison said.

He shared stories of people like Debbie Fields, who launched the dessert empire Mrs. Fields, and Steve Jobs, the original founder of Apple – men and women who turned humiliation and disappointment into success.

“Why do I share these stories?” asked Harrison. “Because I want each of you to be open to the probability that a ‘punctuation point’ or ‘punctuation person’ may present to you at any time.

“When you are confronted with one of your ‘punctuation points,’ look at it as potentially a positive sign – one that you open your eyes to, listen to, embrace, wrestle with and accept as a career-leading beacon, or reject as genuinely not for you.”

The School’s top graduate Jonathan Vickers said Harrison’s words were “amazingly relevant to him” during this time of transition.

“I had an opportunity that I recently took advantage of,” said Vickers. “I went to a photo workshop in Colorado. It was a little pricey, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not. But I went out there and made connections and really found a [career] focus. That was a big turning point in my journalism career and shaped who I am now.”

Vickers turned the opportunity into a post-graduate internship with Rock and Ice magazine in Carbondale, Col.

Building on the importance of life-changing moments, Harrison urged students to take advantage of the change that’s happening in the media industry.

“Technology and innovation are changing the discipline of journalism,” said Harrison. “Not its foundation of fair, unbiased reporting of information and dialogue, but by giving us new avenues for its expression.

“You have a great opportunity to create your mark on your industry – to differentiate yourself by expressing yourself and altering older paradigms.”

Harrison concluded his message by asking students to envision their role in a global conversation – asking them to make things happen, not to watch things happen or to “wonder what has happened.”

You can view the webcast of Harrison’s speech and read his bio on the School of Journalism’s website.

Read this official press release and more on WVU Today.